June 17th, 2009
03:21 PM ET
13 years ago

Frank slams Obama for 'big mistake' on Defense of Marriage Act (updated)

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/03/18/aig.bonuses.congress/art.frank.gi.jpg caption="Rep. Barney Frank says the Obama administration made a 'big mistake' on a Justice Department brief supporting the Defense of Marriage Act."](CNN) - Four days after the Justice Department filed a brief strongly supporting the Defense of Marriage Act, openly gay Rep. Barney Frank said the Obama administration made a "big mistake" and is calling on the president to clearly explain his views on the matter.

"I think the administration made a big mistake. The wording they used was inappropriate," the Massachusetts Democrat told the Boston Herald during an interview published in the paper's Wednesday edition.

Update: Rep. Frank has since said his comments were based on a flawed description of the administration's brief and believes President Obama does not deserve criticism for the document. (full statement below)

Many gay activists have called on Frank and other gay members of Congress to speak out against the recent DOJ brief, which appeared to equate gay marriage to incest in its reasoning that states have the right not to recognize gay marriages from other states.

The brief says states favor heterosexual marriages because they are the "traditional and universally recognized form of marriage," and specifically argued that the Constitution's "full faith and credit" clause - whereby states have to respect the "public acts, records, and judicial proceedings" - does not apply to gay marriage just as it does not apply to mariages involving incest.

"I've been in touch with the White House and I'm hoping the president will make clear these were not his views," Frank also said.

(Updated below the jump with latest Frank statement)

Rep. Jared Polis - another openly gay member of Congress - also criticized the Obama administration late Tuesday, saying in a statement he was "shocked and disappointed."

"Comparing my loving relationship with my partner, Marlon, to incest was unconscionable coming from a president who has called for change," he said.

The brief has set off a firestorm among prominent members of the gay community - already frustrated with the president for not taking steps to overturn the military's policy of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." While campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination last year, Obama said he was against both the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy and the Defense of Marriage Act.

"The brief …could have been written by the Rev. Pat Robertson," wrote former Clinton adviser David Mixner, now a prominent Democratic fundraiser. "Using the worst of stereotypes, it intimates that we don't have constitutional guarantees, invokes scenarios of incest, of children and advocates that we don't have the same rights as others who have struggled for civil rights. "

"What in the hell were they thinking? Or is that their thinking?" Mixner added.

CNN Radio: Senior Political Correspondent Candy Crowley weighs in on the president's move

Mixner is one of several gay Democrats to drop out of a Democratic National Committee fundraiser next week - co-hosted by Reps. Frank and Polis - featuring Vice President Biden and honoring the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.

"How will they ever take us seriously if we keep forking out money while they harm us?" Mixner wrote.

The DNC did not respond to CNN's request for comment.

UPDATE: In a Thursday statement, Frank walked back his earlier remarks.
Full statement follows:

“When I was called by a newspaper reporter for reaction to the administration’s brief defending the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, I made the mistake of relying on other people’s oral descriptions to me of what had been in the brief, rather than reading it first. It is a lesson to me that I should not give in to press insistence that I comment before I have had a chance fully to inform myself on the subject at hand.”

“Now that I have read the brief, I believe that the administration made a conscientious and largely successful effort to avoid inappropriate rhetoric. There are some cases where I wish they had been more explicit in disavowing their view that certain arguments were correct, and to make it clear that they were talking not about their own views of these issues, but rather what was appropriate in a constitutional case with a rational basis standard – which is the one that now prevails in the federal courts, although I think it should be upgraded.”

“It was my position in that conversation with the reporter that the administration had no choice but to defend the constitutionality of the law. I think it is unwise for liberals like myself, who were consistently critical of President Bush’s refusal to abide by the law in cases where he disagreed with it to now object when President Obama refuses to follow the Bush example. It is the President’s job to try to change the law, but it is also his obligation to uphold and defend it when it has been enacted by appropriate processes. It would not be wise, in my judgment, for those of us who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, or who sympathize with the fight for our rights, to argue for a precedent that says that executives who disagreed politically with the purpose of the law should have the option of refusing to defend it in a constitutional case.”

“I strongly opposed DOMA when it was adopted and I will continue to fight for changes. I support very strongly the lawsuit brought by the people at Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) that make the cogent argument that DOMA’s provision denying federal recognition of same-sex marriages blatantly violates the equal protection clause. And I will work with the Obama administration as they have promised to do to enact laws protecting LGBT people from hate crimes, from job discrimination, and from discrimination in the military. I will also be critical when I think inappropriate language is used. But after rereading this brief, I do not think that the Obama administration should be subject to harsh criticism in this instance.”

soundoff (300 Responses)
  1. phoenix86

    Barney talking about a gay issue. It is the ONLY subject on which Frank is even remotely knowledgable.

    June 17, 2009 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  2. southerncousin

    Hate to jump to Obama's defense, but remember this is the guy (along with Chris Dodd) responsible for the collapse of the housing market.

    June 17, 2009 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  3. John

    Instead of outrage at some stall lawyer's filing at Justice, why doesn't Frank take the action to address the fundamental issue- the act itself. Go change the law of the land instead of carping about interpretations of this law!

    June 17, 2009 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  4. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    Call it anything you want besides for marriage. Civil unions, domestic partnerships, etc.

    June 17, 2009 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  5. Never Repub again

    I think CNN is confused about what the word "SLAM" means. I guess they are trying to stir controversy where there is none.

    June 17, 2009 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  6. Bob

    Slavery was once viewed as "tradition" and "heritage" as well. Who flipping cares about a tradition based on intolerance and injustice?

    June 17, 2009 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  7. big papa

    The GLTB coalition has to stop acting like petulant children...

    ...with make or break (the nation economically) legislation like Healthcare Reform and Business Reform Legislation on tap...

    ...President Obama can't afford to spend political capitol (and media attention) at this crucial juncture on issues that can wait...

    ...The President has introduced legislation to give same sex partners of gov't employees survivorship/spousal benefits/rights...

    ...GLTB coalition should be patient, the President (is on their side) and has only been in office for less than 6 months, and he has a heckuva lot on his plate!

    June 17, 2009 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  8. Patricia

    How can you say you're a Christian and support same sex marriages? God forbid!

    If America doesn't repent, the situation is only going to get worst. If God destroyed Sodom and Gomorra, where does the U.S. think they're stand with God right now?

    June 17, 2009 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  9. Jon Cruz

    This is one of many reasons why so many gay men voted for Hillary Clinton. Obama's disastrous interview in the Advocate - where he claimed his gay role model (a professor whose name he couldn't remember) was his role model because he didn't "proselytize" - should have sounded the alarm for the gay community before the primaries. But, there you are.

    June 17, 2009 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  10. Jack in Des Moines

    Even when the Obama Administration was the Obama Campaign, it was not as gay friendly as it claimed to be. Jackie Norris, former Chief of Staff to the First Lady, would have Secret Service move or remove people carrying or wearing gay political signs or clothes at rallys. But should we be surprised? This is the same group of people who deny the media's fascination with Obama, yet when the President swats a fly, almost every television news organization runs the story. ABC News is granted permission to broadcast GMA and the Evening News live from the White House – something that is completely unprecedented.

    June 17, 2009 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  11. Sniffit

    As well he should. The only good thing about the Defense of Marriage Act is that it will create a controversy ripe for decision by the Supreme Court so we can lay some legal smack down on more of our country's bigots.

    Now, raise your hand if you're a GOPer and your eyes just popped out of your head that I'm agreeing with criticism of Obama haha

    June 17, 2009 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  12. Shannon

    I can't wait to read what the Obama apologists have to say about this one!

    June 17, 2009 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  13. makesUwonder

    Well, maybe the administration did make a mistake Mr. Frank......but the bigger mistake here is you being a member of Congress!

    June 17, 2009 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  14. Robin

    Well, President Obama, VP Bidan, and SoS Cliton have all stated they believe marriage is between 1 man and 1 woman and this is one of the few things they have NOT flipped flopped on.

    Why are people surprised?


    June 17, 2009 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  15. The black spider

    I never knew Frank was gay. I am all for giving every constitutional rights to gays and lesbians but Just don't called their union MARRIAGE period.
    You can create another name for that.

    June 17, 2009 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  16. Robert

    Marriage can be only between a Man and Woman

    June 17, 2009 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  17. ???

    Obama wants it both ways. He okays benefits for same sex partners, but has failed on other campaign promises made to the gay and lesbian community. He is trying to appease the gay community.

    Remember he said during the campaign that he might not be able to accomplish all he wants in his first term, implying that he expected to have a second term. Well, I hope that you all remember this when the next election comes along. He made promises he had no intention of keeping, just to get your vote. Don't give him another chance to pull the wool over your eyes.

    When it comes to family values and the war, Obama looks like a Republican, when it comes to social services, he is further left than most Democrats.

    June 17, 2009 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  18. Eunice

    Read the bible and respect yourselves. Marriage is a union a MAN and a WOMAN. Give me a break. I'm tired on hearing about these weird folks. Go to a therapist and get yourselves some help. On this issue, give me Sara Palin and the Republician party anytime. I'm so sick of these creeps.

    June 17, 2009 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  19. lluvia

    This is pathetic. Incest is blood relatives and happens mostly among hetrosexuals. There is no relation in homosexuality.

    June 17, 2009 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  20. MatthewDetroit

    Give it a break Frank.
    You killed the entire economy with the collapse of the mortgage and banking system.
    Instead of working on that you are worried about social issues that just dont matter.
    Get your focus Frank. Fix the economy you destroyed.

    June 17, 2009 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  21. Scott in Tennessee

    You see this is a huge problem, we have got this Frank charater trying too help get these immoral laws past for these homosexual groups. I would say that the majority of the Americans does not support this homosexual agenda. Look at California, people voted to strike down the homosexual laws time and time again. The President knows this and is not going to damage his career on passing these laws that are unethical and is not natural. I support the president on this issue. Folks can come up with all sorts of junk to defend homosexuality, but nothing no matter what people says or does, it will not be justified because it is unnatural. Barney Frank needs to retire!

    June 17, 2009 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  22. skyhawkdriver

    Once again the president is proving to both parties that he speaks out of both sides of his mouth..the promises that he made during the campaign are turning up to be empty..it is amazing what a canidate will tell people for their votes and their money..change we can believe in??..I don't see it

    June 17, 2009 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  23. Melissa

    One thing I disagree with Obama on is his views on gay marriage. It should be called "marriage", not "union" or else all such legal contracts should be called "unions" even the ones performed in a religious location. The only place it should be then called "marriage" is inside a religion. Contrary to Christian mindset, marriage is not Christian and existed long before the creation of the religion.

    That being said, its not exactly a surprise that they came out with something like this.Obama never said he supported gay marriage. In fact, he said that he supported "civil unions", not marriages.

    Come on now. Don't be in denial and don't be surprised. You know better than this.

    June 17, 2009 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  24. Ben

    Frank is the real "Big Mistake" here. That loser needs to go.

    June 17, 2009 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  25. MatthewDetroit

    Congressional Budget Office.
    On Healthcare.
    It is going to cost 2 Tillion and there is no listing on how the programs will be paid for and where the cost is from.
    I though BARRY was big on Pay as you Go. I thought we were not going to spend ANY money unless we had somewhere to get the funds.
    Why are you changing the rules Barry. STOP SPENDING MONEY.
    The Health Care system is not perfect but it is not broke...
    You will ruin it Comrade Barack.

    June 17, 2009 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
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